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Environmental Horticulture

Environmental Horticulture

Dr. John Peterson

Professor / Public Horticulture, Floriculture

Dr. John C. Peterson is a Professor in the Department of Environmental Horticulture at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He received his BS Degree in Horticulture from the University of Rhode Island and PhD in Horticulture and Plant Physiology from Rutgers University. During his career he has served as a Professor and Floriculture Specialist in the Department of Horticulture at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio; Executive Director of AmeriFlora ’92 International Flower and Garden Exposition in Columbus, Ohio; President and CEO of the Massachusetts Horticulture Society in Boston, Massachusetts; President of Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California; Director of the San Francisco Botanical Garden and Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco; and Department Head and Professor in the Horticulture and Crop Science Department at Cal Poly State University. In his current role as a Professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, he teaches a Sensory Gardening course as well as the Annual and Perennials course lab. His other duties also include serving as the Director of the Plant Science Major (A collaboration among the Plant Pathology, Agronomy and Environmental Horticulture Departments) ; Chair of the Environmental Horticulture Graduate Studies Program; he has a key role in an initiative to establish an Endowed Chair in Arboriculture; and he is working to organize a new undergraduate major relating to Winemaking, Brewing and Distilled Beverages. Dr. Peterson possesses a broad knowledge of a wide range of horticultural crops, including plant production, product handling and use. His strongest areas of technical expertise relate to plant nutrition, water quality, growing media and soils and the use of tropical foliage plants in interior environments. Dr. Peterson also facilitates the placement of current UF horticulture students into internship positions throughout the US and around the world.


    Dr. Peterson’s current research efforts are focused upon issues relating to the recruitment of undergraduate students into the Plant Science Major.


    Sensory Gardening,  ORH 2752

    Course Description:

    A hands-on, multidisciplinary approach to environmental horticulture delivered through the context of the human senses. Class activities, assignments, and projects are designed to enhance students’ awareness and understanding of how horticulture relates to the natural and built world, as well as the ways in which people perceive those worlds.


    This course provides an introduction to environmental horticulture with emphasis on the relationship between plants and the human sensory experience and the impact of plant sciences on the daily lives of humans. To be responsible and effective practitioners of environmental horticulture, students should understand not only the environment and the plants used in landscapes, but also the ways in which humans use, experience, and are affected by plants. Students will gain a fundamental understanding of people-plant interactions that they may not obtain from courses where primary emphasis is on identification, use, or management of plants and landscapes.

    Learning Objectives:

    Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

    • Describe the basic biological functions of the human sensory organs
    • Assess uses of plants and explain how they relate to sensory perception
    • Demonstrate ways in which plants affect the sensory experience
    • Analyze the relationships between people and plants from biological and social perspectives
    • Interpret the effects of plant blindness on individuals and cultures
    • Evaluate roles of plants and human senses on adaptation and global distribution of people and plants


    Annual and Perennial Gardening Lab,  ORH 4804L

    Course Description:

    The lab concentrates on the production, identification, use, and management of herbaceous annuals and perennials in the Florida landscape.

    Learning Objectives: 

    At the conclusion of this course, the student will be able to:

    • Identify 100+ annual and perennial plants by common and scientific name.
    • Understand the cultural needs of certain annuals and perennials in production.
    • Apply an understanding of site selection, preparation, design, installation and maintenance by creating and maintaining an annual/perennial landscape project.

    Dr. Peterson provides advisory assistance to the horticulture industry in areas relating to horticultural crop production and use of plants in interior environments.  His primary areas of expertise are focused in fertilizers and plant nutrition, growing media and water quality, protected plant culture and greenhouse production of horticultural crops, and the use and culture of tropical foliage plants in interior environments.  He also collaborates with other universities on issues and efforts to recruit more students into the horticulture and plant science programs at 4-year institutions, with the goal of preparing more well-trained professionals for the horticulture and plant industries.

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Environmental Horticulture
University of Florida
PO Box 110670
1137 Fifield Hall
Gainesville, Fl 32611-0670

    • Ph.D. Horticulture / Plant Physiology, 1978. Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
    • B.S. Plant Science / Resource Development, 1974. University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island

    There has been a decline in students enrolled in horticulture at many four-year universities. This study focused on examining enrollment trends; identifying important prospective student target groups; understanding critical avenues and issues for communication with key target groups; and identifying high impact and effective messaging for prospective University of Florida (UF) students and key people influencing their academic decisions. Research, planning and implementation were conducted to increase enrollment of students into the Plant Science major at UF. Information and data was gathered from university records; faculty, staff and administrator interviews; student focus group studies; from industry leaders; and surveys. Survey work was an online human interface, a modified conjoint six level with a six variable design, and multiple regression analyses. Recruitment into the environmental horticulture area received some focus as this segment has had the slowest recent growth. The greatest opportunity for recruitment was found to be transfers from two-year colleges. Two other pools are science students in other majors and freshman. Identifying the diversity of jobs for four-year horticulture graduates is a key factor. Students and parents must understand post-graduation career pathways, salaries and salary growth potential. Identifying coursework character and sequencing that leads to various professional positions is important. Terminology and semantics, including key words and phrases must be concise, contemporary, and compelling in order to appeal to prospective students. Information must be comprehensible and meaningful to those who have little knowledge of the horticulture and plant science profession. Information should be formatted for rapid comprehension and viewing on hand-held smartphones. Websites, social media and short videos are important avenues for communication. Contact with faculty, graduates, industry stakeholders, and current students are beneficial, as are visits to horticulture educational facilities during campus tours. A clear and concise description of the pathway for the application of freshman and transfer students is needed. For external transfer students, providing early, advance knowledge of required coursework is the most critical issue. Preparing concise and accurate information for parents and individuals who communicate with prospective students is needed. Information for prospective students should project professors as “cool professionals”, rather than intensely academic. Printed collateral material is needed for personal contact. Effective student recruitment efforts must include leadership, a comprehensive commitment of all parties associated with the program and annual funding. Increased student enrollment provides opportunities to sustain or strengthen department support and fill the current and growing industry need for four-year horticulture graduates.